MLA Modern Language Association Workshop Part II: The Mechanics of Writing
Overview • Language • Spelling • Punctuation • Italics • Numbers • Quotations • Basics of scholarly writing
Language • Match your language to your audience • Use direct, clear, and persuasive language • Avoid repetitions and unnecessary words • Use active verbs whenever possible • Avoid offensive or biased language
2. Spelling • Spelling, including hyphenation, should be consistent • Your computer’s spelling check is not always reliable • A good dictionary is your best resource
3. Punctuation • Punctuation makes your sentences clearer • It makes them easier to read • Review the basic rules of punctuation • A good source is the University of Purdue’s page on punctuation http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/566/01/
4. Italics • Italicize the names of books, periodicals, Web sites, online databases, films, TV and radio broadcasts, operas, works of visual art… • Italicize foreign words in an English text • Avoid italicizing for emphasis, particularly in research papers
5. Numbers • Spell out numbers written in one or two words (one, three hundred, three million) • Use numerals for all others (101 and 1,563) • Do not begin a sentence with a numeral • Spell out centuries in lowercase (twentieth century) • Always be consistent throughout your paper
6a. Quotations • Prose • For a quotation of four lines or less: make it part of your text and put it in quotation marks • For more than four lines: set them off from the text with a new line, one inch from the left margin, double-spaced, and without quotation marks
6b. Quotations • Poetry • Three lines or less are in quotation marks, and part of your text. Use a slash with a space on each side to separate them. • Three lines or more begin on a new line, double-spaced, and one inch from the left margin.
6c. Quotations • Use an ellipsis whenever you omit words from the source • Within a sentence: “I came, … I conquered.” • At the end: “I came, I saw, ….” • At the end + reference: “I came, I saw, …” (52). • Use square brackets whenever you add your own comment/explanation within the quotation.
6d. Quotations (and punctuation) • Generally use a colon or a comma before the quotation • For a quote within a quote, use single quotation marks within double quotation marks • Usually, commas and periods belong inside the quotation marks, whereas all other punctuation marks go outside
7. Basics of scholarly writing • Start on your project early • Read the assignment carefully • Prepare a solid outline • Pay special attention to the Introduction and to the Conclusion • Avoid generalizations • Be willing to revise several times
For more information • The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (7th edition). • The MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (3rd edition).